No problem for a lioness hunting party

27th January 2006 at 00:00
I watch the three of them through the nursery window: Donna, Jem and Zarina working together to get Nathaniel to come in after playtime. They are like hunting lionesses, the way they stoop and circle, crouch and freeze, step back and wait. They say nothing, but are in frequent contact, assessing each other's body language and that of Nathaniel, who would run and hide behind the shed if he knew it was the end of playtime, and have a temper tantrum, bite and kick, if he thought he was being made to come in.

With a subtle exchange of looks and crouching very low, they near Nathaniel. Zarina, smiling now, suddenly loops her arm in his. He looks up, surprised. The others are half standing behind covering the possible escape routes. "Let's play trains," suggests Zarina. Instantly they are singing "down at the station..." Zarina moves towards the door, her arm looped in Nathaniel's, and the other two shadow them as they all make their way into the classroom. Nathaniel is smiling but still looks surprised. He is safely in the classroom, no one is hurt or upset, there is no physical restraint and the school day can continue.

Teamwork. We always put it in job descriptions and adverts, always ask about it at interviews, and it really is the most important thing. Gone are the days when the teacher shuts her classroom door and it is just her and the children; in a special school at least, there may be a teacher, a team of four or five teaching assistants and often other adults too. Teamwork has to work well. If not, children pick up on any atmosphere, procedures aren't carried out consistently and it makes everyone miserable.

As senior management, we think carefully about the make-up of teams. Who is going to get on well with whom? Who can bring balance to a team? What expertise, maturity and personalities already exist? How would this new person affect it? When things go wrong, we also act quickly to restore order. Sometimes it means moving a team member, but we try to avoid that.

Mostly people work things out for themselves and in schools we are lucky in that we all have a common goal: the children.

Teamwork is one of the best things about working in a special school. It is wonderful to feel that camaraderie and support, and know that if you are having a bad day, someone will understand and cover for you. Or if you see someone having a difficult time you can offer to stand in and help without them suffering any loss of face. There were times when there was more conflict in school, more competition. I remember having problems with a child as a newly qualified teacher and receiving nothing but smirks from a senior colleague who seemed pleased to see me struggle. These days, it's fine to ask for help, it's good to offer help and it's great to work as a team, especially if you like playing at lions.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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